Giant Social Network Facebook May Give Access To Children Under 13

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After its troubled start as a publicly traded company, Facebook is under increasing pressure to grow revenue. Facebook's stock Monday fell 82 cents, or 3%, to a new low of $26.90.

Lowering the age limit would help the company tap younger users, who advertisers are eager to reach. Kids are also avid users of games — a big moneymaker for Facebook. About 12% of Facebook's $3.7 billion in 2011 revenue came from its share of Zynga games such as"FarmVille" played on Facebook

Still, it's a risky gambit that could expose Facebook to the scrutiny of regulators and the ire of parents. Some fear that kids under age 13 are not ready for the grown-up world of social networking, where even older children can fall prey to online predators or bullies, be exposed to inappropriate content and get bombarded with online ads.

Massachusetts mom and blogger Lori Popkewitz Alper said her three sons, ages 11, 10 and 8, are not allowed on Facebook. And they won't be any time soon, even if the company lowers the age threshold.

"It's shocking to me that Facebook is contemplating doing this," said Popkewitz Alper, editorin chief of the blog Groovy Green Livin. "I feel like I am very aware of the issues and the potential dangers for children, and it really frightens me to think that young kids are potentially going to have access."

But other parents are more sanguine about the prospect of Facebook opening to younger users. Microsoft Research released a study last year that found 36% of parents knew their children joined Facebook before they turned 13, and that many of them helped their kids sign up.

Just this week Dawn Carter, a 47-year-old mom of three from Riverside, gave her 11-year-old son permission to set up an account to stay in touch with classmates over the summer. She allowed her 14-year-old daughter to sign up two years ago. Carter said she has taught her kids not to hand out personal information, and she scrutinizes their privacy settings.

"I just didn't see any difference between communicating with a Facebook account or texting on his phone," Carter said.

Facebook already has limited what minors can do on the site. For example, they can't share content with "everyone," a setting that allows anyone on the Internet to peruse someone's posts and photos.

But Facebook is having a tough time policing its site to catch young scofflaws. Age limits are too easy to circumvent, and even though Facebook says it shuts down every underage account it finds and has tried to beef up its age verification systems, it privately concedes that there are millions of underage kids on Facebook. And that puts Facebook at odds with a federal law that requires it to get parental consent before collecting personal data on kids.

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